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Week In Review: Peacock Spreads Its Feathers, Apple Starting To Get Real About Apple TV+

1. Peacock Spreads Its Feathers

If any of the Flixes got screwed over by Covid, it was Peacock, which had hoped to launch their service by getting millions of people to subscribe in order to watch the 2020 Olympics.

When that didn’t happen, they decided to push the free version of the service, a wise move given that they did not have much in the way of original content at launch.

Then they seemed to more or less forget about Peacock until this week, when Comcast CEO Brian Roberts unleashed a serious slew of bombshells in a Wall Street Journal report. Among the most notable: they may want to partner with VCBS on streaming, they may want to buy Roku, they are looking to sign millions of people up to watch the Olympics and are moving more events to Peacock as a result, and they’ve considered moving some of their hit linear shows like New Amsterdam and Brooklyn Nine Nine from NBC to Peacock. 

Why It Matters

On a personal level it matters because during a Stream TV analysts panel a few days prior to the WSJ story, we were asked to name a likely buyer for Roku and I said “Comcast”, mostly to shake things up, but partly because I thought there was real synergy between their ad models and because Comcast keeps trying to push that Flex box that no one seems to want. Better to team up with Roku and give away TVs with broadband to subs in Comcast’s footprint and TVs with Peacock to those outside of it. (Or something like that.)

It was a spitball comment, so sort of funny to see Roberts actually proposing it just a few days later.

But enough about me.

For the industry his comments are notable on many levels.

A potential deal with VCBS to merge Peacock and Paramount+ makes sense on many levels–similar audiences, scale, brand recognition, distribution. But as many have pointed out, combining two major broadcast companies will likely lead to regulatory issues.

Or not.

If the collab is strictly limited to streaming, there’s no reason to fear that we’ll have fewer local broadcast stations.

Not to mention that it’s well past time to update those regulations to reflect the fact that it’s 2021 and the internet is not a fad, and so local broadcast TV is not viewers’ only outlet to the world. 

But given the U.S. government and their inability to understand tech, I wouldn’t count on it.

Then there’s the Olympics part.

Viewers pretty much have all their subscriptions in place and so it may be something of a struggle to get them to continue to pony up once the Olympics are done. Much will depend on what other value they see in the service.

On that note, I have often wondered, both in this column and on numerous Zoom calls, why networks keep two different sets of programming, one for linear and one for streaming. It works at cross-purposes with any sort of brand-building efforts, it’s confusing to viewers, and, most importantly, it sets up a hierarchy where everyone knows that the better, more prestigious shows are on streaming while the lesser shows are on linear. 

(Side Note: While network prime time shows may lack prestige, the people working on them make way more money than the people working on streaming shows. There are more episodes, more viewers and more advertising dollars. So talent is in no rush to shift to streaming.)

And finally it’s significant because it means Comcast hasn’t just forgotten about Peacock.

What You Need To Do About It

If you’re Comcast, congratulations on waking up. Your main goal now is going to be promoting the rest of Peacock to all those Olympic viewers so they continue to  subscribe while continuing to build out your originals. I would 100% bring in your hit series from NBC too, and use the synergy to increase viewership in both places.

You’ll also want to figure out your next move in terms of mergers. (As in maybe DiscoWarner becomes DiscoWarnerU if your lawyers think a VCBS deal is untenable.)

Finally, you need to decide what you’re going to do with Xumo, the FAST you bought back when buying FASTs was a thing. I might just merge them in with free Peacock, though I get that they power some of the smart TV FASTs, so giving up that money or making both work is going to be a challenge.

If you’re ViacomCBS, merging Peacock and Paramount+ is not as crazy as it may sound. You’d have a killer library and a really broad range of programming that could let you compete with Disney and DiscoWarner. It would also be a good move internationally too–remember that Comcast owns Sky.

If you’re an advertiser, Peacock is ramping up and will indeed have many new viewers during the Olympics, so if there’s any leftover inventory, you might want to get your hands on it. That includes the weeks after the Olympics, when people might be looking at what else is on the service and have not yet unsubscribed.

2. Apple Starting To Get Real About Apple TV+

While it’s unclear how many people actually pay for Apple TV+, it seems more than likely the answer is “hardly any.”

Though the service is only five dollars a month, Apple’s been giving away a free year of it with every Apple purchase, meaning laptops, iPads, iPhones, Apple Watches, AirPods and more.

But starting this month, a new Apple purchase only gets you three free months of Apple TV+.

Why It Matters

It’s been pretty obvious that Apple’s never quite known what to do about TV. That’s manifested itself in many ways, from their bizarre decision not to roll out a low-priced Apple TV device to compete with Roku and Amazon to the fact that there are about a dozen shows in aggregate on the whole of AppleTV+.

So while The Morning Show and Ted Lasso may have been well-received, there’s not much else there once you’re done and so it’s definitely not going to make sense for viewers to stick around once they figure out they have to pay.

It’s possible this shift is an indication that Apple wants to up its TV game, though it’s just as likely an indication that they realized that with all those one year free deals, no one was actually paying for the service, and wondered what it would be like if some people did.

What You Need To Do About It

If you’re Apple, you need to figure out what your TV strategy actually is. Are you just dabbling, using these shows as a marketing tool for your hardware? Or are you serious about being a real player?

You’ve got $250 billion+ in cash, so buying one of your competitors is on the table, though it seems very un-Apple to do something like that, despite all the fan folks stanning you and Netflix. 

But you know, maybe.

If you don’t do anything, it’s not the end of the world, but Apple TV+ will quickly become a niche service, something you subscribe to once or twice a year for a month to catch up on Ted Lasso or similar before you give it up again.

Given how much you’ve invested in the service though, it would be a shame not to do something more with it.

In the immortal words of Mark Zuckerberg, you know you’ve got to try and do better.